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Trip Report

Nooksack Cirque — Monday, May. 27, 2019

North Cascades
Fabulous scenery along the gravel bars of the North Fork Nooksack River, with Icy Peak beyond.

It had been a couple of decades since my last visit to this fabulous valley. I'm so happy that we made the choice to visit again.

The road to the trailhead is a bit bumpy with chuckholes but not that much of a problem for a standard vehicle.

Begin by finding a set of good logs to cross Ruth Creek on, just a few hundred feet downstream from the trailhead, reached on an established trail. We found the crossing pretty easy but you do get a little distracted by the swift, green water flowing beneath. It is possible to ford Ruth Creek closer to the trailhead but the water looked swift, cold and about thigh deep. Thus, we opted for the no-worries log crossing.

After you reach the opposite bank turn left, finding a way trail near the creek bank. Stay left when possible. We made the mistake on the way up by missing a faint trail to the left, not long after the log crossing, and ended up on a trail that eventually disappeared out in the forest, necessitating a bushwhack back to the trail.  

The first few miles of trail on the old road bed were actually very pleasant and easy. We found ourselves appreciative of the Forest Service Trail Crew's work in recently cutting countless trees off of the trail, their hard work ending shortly before the wilderness boundary. There are however several more messes of downed trees to negotiate afterward and before the trail finally gets it out of its system, which made for a more comfortable cruise through the ancient forest of huge Western Hemlocks and Silver firs.

There is a rotting footlog bridge that crosses high above a creek. Two of the uprights that used to support the wire rope hand line have rotted and fallen away at the far end of the bridge.  I am hoping that this essential bridge will soon be replaced as a collapse could have consequences for a hiker. Hopefully it won't be removed altogether as it would be quite a ravine to climb in and back out of.

Be prepared to be dazzled at the first sight of the snowy peaks and the upper North Fork Nooksack River Valley! Icy Peak dominates the scene here as you travel up the the river from here, alternating between tedious walking on the rocky river bars and crashing through the brush in the forest, trying to avoid the deeper channel crossings. When reaching a apparent difficult crossing you can usually find some kind of very brushy track to follow In the woods (or not!) to the left. Eventually you will reach consistently open gravel bars to follow for quite a ways before the going gets rough again.

We regretted not getting an earlier start, agreeing that an overnight (or two) trip would go a long way toward further appreciation of this gem of a valley.

This is rough country but the hiker's efforts are rewarded by exceptional beauty and relative solitude.

Log crossing of Ruth Creek near the trailhead
The beautiful, wild Nooksack
Huge Western Hemlocks and Silver firs greet you along the trail